Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Critical Areas Ordinance Public Workshop with Planning Commission and Department of Ecology

Following our comment is a press release from the Jefferson County Department of Community Development.

The reports referenced in the press release were actually submitted on May 2, 2007, not last week. The press release also implies equal weighting between the majority reports (which were adopted by substantial majority vote) and the minority reports.

The Department of Ecology will present their information, and take questions from the Planning Commission. While Ecology's representatives do not intend to engage with the public, anyone may submit questions through the Department of Community Development. Those questions will be then provided to the Planning Commission chairman, who will ask these questions on the public's behalf.

As of this morning, Tuesday May 30, DCD will also make these questions available to the Department of Ecology's representatives prior to the workshop.

The "questions that have arisen from the subcommittee meetings" refers to the work of Dr. Kenneth Brooks, whose review of Ecology's best available science (BAS) found that the science in Ecology's recommendations for wetlands buffers is incomplete as it pertains to conditions in Jefferson County. After their comments on his findings, Dr. Brooks' further review found additional concerns with Ecology's work. Although repeated requests have been made for this workshop to be centered around a discussion between the Department of Ecology's scientists and Dr. Brooks, so that the Planning Commission can have the benefit of an open and frank discussion between contrasting scientists, that opportunity has not materialized.

For Immediate Release — May 24, 2007

Contact: Al Scalf
Director, Department of Community Development
Jefferson County
(360) 379-4450 or ascalf@co.jefferson.wa.us

Critical Areas Ordinance Public Workshop with Planning Commission and Department of Ecology

Port Townsend, WA
—The Jefferson County Planning Commission will hold a special public meeting on Wednesday, May 30, 2007, at 6:30 p.m. at the WSU Learning Center, Shold Business Park, located at 201 West Patison, Port Hadlock. A workshop will be held with representatives from the Department of Ecology who will present information regarding wetlands and best available science (BAS) related to the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO).

“This workshop is an opportunity for the Planning Commission to ask questions of Ecology so they can better understand the complex issues of the CAO,” said Al Scalf, Director of the Department of Community Development. “A discussion about wetland Best Available Science will help clarify questions that have arisen from the subcommittee meetings held weekly over the past nine months.”

Anyone having a question on wetlands and BAS may submit their question to DCD prior to the Planning Commission meeting. These questions will be forwarded to the Planning Commission Chair, who will be facilitating the meeting on May 30.

Twenty reports were submitted to the Planning Commission from the CAO subcommittee last week. The Planning Commission will utilize the reports for policy direction in the drafting of a new CAO code.

It’s anticipated that the CAO draft will be completed in the first few weeks of July, with a public hearing to be scheduled with the Planning Commission later that month. The Planning Commission will then make a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners in late August. A decision of the BOCC on a CAO is expected by October 18, 2007.

The CAO reports that are currently being reviewed by the Planning Commission are available to the public at either the Jefferson County Library, the Port Townsend Public Library or at the office of the Department of Community Development.

For further information or submitting possible questions, contact Long-Range Planning at the Department of Community Development, 621 Sheridan St, Port Townsend, WA 98368, (360) 379-4450, or planning@co.jefferson.wa.us.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Reports differ on county's plans for critical areas

The following article appeared in the May 4-5, 2007 Jefferson County edition of the Peninsula Daily News.

By Evan Cael
Peninsula Daily News

PORT HADLOCK —  The Jefferson County Planning Commission heard three different suggestions for a revised critical areas ordinance at its meeting this week.

The three reports were a majority view that recommends minimum wetlands buffers with some voluntary aspects, a minority view that sets larger buffers to err on the side of caution and a critique of both those reports.

All exempt agriculture from the ordinance.

The reports were developed by an 18-member critical area ordinance committee that has met weekly since last August to make recommendations based on best available science to update the county's ordinance.

Wednesday was the first look the full Planning Commission has had at the committee's views.

"This represents a ton of work from a lot of people," said Planning Commissioner Peter Downey, District 2, speaking before about 60 people at the Washington State University Learning Center in Port Hadlock.

Downey was elected chairman of the commission at Wednesday's meeting.

He replaces Planning Commissioner Bud Schindler, District 3, who was elected vice-chair.

On May 17 last year, the Jefferson County Department of Community Development drafted a critical areas ordinance update, which — in some cases — required 100-percent increases in wetland buffer zones, the largest being 300 feet.

That change was part of an agreement with the Washington Environmental Council, an environmental state lobbying group that appealed the county's critical areas ordinance before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.

WEC argues that the county had failed to incorporate best available science in its ordinance, which is a requirement of the Growth Management Act regarding such critical areas as wetlands, salmon habitat, channel migration zones and flood zones.

Public outcry when the revised ordinance went before the Planning Commission in June prompted the formation of the review committee.

It consists of four planning commissioners and about 15 citizens.

The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the county commissioners, who are scheduled to make the final decision by Oct. 18

"The update we have in front of us can support a healthy relationship between the government and our citizens," said Norm MacLeod, who presented the majority report.

He stressed compliance versus defiance, saying people may begin to defy regulations they perceive as being too stringent.

"With any ordinance, you want to have willing compliance," MacLeod said.

Otherwise, "the folks simply stop observing the statutes of the ordinance."

He said the majority report aims to provide land owners with maximum flexibility in protecting critical areas.

But he emphasized that, "We're not saying no regulations."

The buffer zones recommended by the majority range from 7.5 feet to 150 feet, depending on the type of wetland.

A voluntary extended buffer for wildlife areas is also a component of the majority's recommendations.

Committee member Jill Silver presented the stricter minority report, with larger wetland buffers.

Silver said the minority report — backed by three citizens on the committee and Planning Commissioner Henry Werch, District 2 — was aligned with state Department of Ecology recommendations.

Therefore, she said, it should not be subject to legal challenges because the best available science is not questionable.

The recommended wetland buffer zones range from 25 feet to 300 feet, depending upon the type of wetland.

Silver said the recommendation is not because the group doesn't trust current landowners to be responsible stewards, but because of "an enormous amount of people who will be moving into the county soon."

"I don't have mistrust about long-term land owners in Jefferson County," Silver said.

"I don't trust new land owners coming in."

Many people will be coming from California or other states who are unaware of the unique environment in Jefferson County and won't know how to maintain it or will be purchasing land to sell it, she said.

Therefore, Silver said, the ordinance should err on the side of caution.

"The reality is that, in the absence of regulations, individual financial gain will often trump land use and management decisions," Silver said.

Robert Crittenden presented his own dissenting report that criticized both the majority and the minority.

"The general approach proposed in both reports may reasonably be expected to result in the opposite of what they aim to achieve, because they penalize those property owners who have protected their critical areas and reward those who have degraded or eliminated them," Crittenden said.

His report proposes exemptions for sustainable living.

Do no harm, suffer no regulation," Crittenden said.

A few reasonable restrictions would be placed on compost heaps, driveways and stormwater management, he said.

". . . my recommendation is that the Planning Commission adopt the minority report as a basis, add an exemption fo sustainble living, reduce its excessive regulation, and, also, add any ideas from the other reports, or from elsewhere, that are worthy of inclusion.

"There are many ideas in there that should be incorporated."

A special Planning Commission meeting has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to conclude the committee report presentations.

Most of this week's presentations laid out the philosophical approaches of each report.

When the presentations are continued next week, more of the substance of the reports is expected to be heard.

The Planning Commission will call for public comment on the recommendations for the critical areas ordinance update sometime this summer.

At the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting, during general public comments, Chimacum farmer Roger Short apologized to the Planning Commission for making a threatening comment at the April 18 meeting.

The threat led to Jefferson County Administrator John Fischbach positioning two sheriff's deputies outside the county commissioner's April 23 meeting.

Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335 or evan.cael@peninsuladailynews.com.